At 14, best friends Robb Reiner and Lips made a pact to rock together forever. Their band, Anvil, hailed as the "demi-gods of Canadian metal, " influenced a musical generation that includes Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax, despite never hitting the big time. Following a calamitous European tour, Lips and Robb, now in their fifties, set off to record their 13th album in one last attempt to fulfill their boyhood dreams.
Sacha Gervasi’s Anvil: The Story of Anvil is story of brotherly love set to the thrash-metal beat of Canada’s unsung (and unsing-able) musical heroes. Going beyond a simple profile of a 30-year old band’s struggle to make it big, Gervasi captures the essence of an artist’s desire to have their work heard and appreciated, and his film soars with the faith and conviction of its leads.
And what leads they are! Steve 'Lips’ Kudlow (so named for both his status as the band’s lead singer and his huge mouth) and Robb Reiner (the drummer, not to be confused with the sound-alike film director) are kindred spirits, their friendship borne out of a shared teen obsession for heavy-rock. As men their driving force in life is writing, performing and, most importantly, believing in the band they have kept alive for 30 years.
It has become tough, though. Anvil played with Bon Jovi, Anthrax, Metallicca and Guns N Roses in their heyday and while their contemporaries are basking in L.A. sunshine and filling stadiums, Lips and Robb are borrowing money from family to fund the production of their 13th album (entitled 'This is Thirteen’), and Lips delivers meals to school canteens to keep his family clothed and fed.
Sacha Gervasi understands Anvil, and by now he ought to – he was their underage roadie in the early 1980s after he introduced himself to them backstage at a London gig. His film balances the at-times comical frustrations of the band’s latest tour with a deeply-rooted respect for the men and their music. Anvil: The Story of Anvil has been promoted as a real-life This is Spinal Tap (the 1984 mockumentary directed by that Rob Reiner) and there are moments early on in the film when the lads do seem little more than a couple of silly old buggers who don’t know when to quit.
But 'Lips’ Kudlow is no fool, and Robb Reiner has stuck by his friend for three decades because he knows that. Gervasi knows it too; having captured on film the man’s passion for his music and the respect he has for Reiner and his fans.
The documentary examines the addictive nature of the quest for fame. Not the modern definition of fame, where pretty people achieve instant celebrity because they photograph well or get a standing ovation from Paula Abdul during an '...Idol’ elimination round. Anvil: The Story of Anvil speaks to the thousands of musicians who bash out a beat in their garages, or play a suburban pub on a Friday night. The title undersells the impact of the film to some extent – Anvil’s story it may be, but it is the same story as millions of unheard, unwatched, unappreciated artists and those whose support of that dream never waivers. In 'Lips’ Kudlow and Robb Reiner, Sacha Gervasi has found the purest embodiment of those ideals, and as such perhaps created the best music documentary ever made.